Boyd is in many ways a natural choice to produce a new instalment in the Bond series. He has written good quality spy stories of his own, and also has a track record of novels set in exotic locales. He doesn't disappoint here. In fact, this was a great deal better than I'd expected.
Saying that, the main problem is not so much the plot but the storytelling. This isn't a thriller by any means as it lacks urgency. Not uneventful, but with little incident and almost no action until the halfway mark. Scenes occur so we can revisit them once something happens. Without a proper mission or megalomaniac to hunt the pace flags.
Fleming's cardinal rule (borrowed from pulp fiction) was keep the plot flying and they won't see the plot holes. Here they appear cavernous, as chapters end with little coercing you to start the next. Without head to head showdowns over cards/cars/golf, 007 wilts amid a conspiracy. The girls and henchmen are well characterised but fail to loom large.
In fairness the twists are good and it's an easy read. I enjoyed it as a romance in the same old-fashioned sense that applied to Fleming's work.
The story has all the elements that are compulsory for a Bond novel - Martinis, fast cars, a sinister villain, beautiful and intriguing women falling at the hero's feet... But the style is definitely recognisable as Boyd's, and it's better for it. It doesn't seem lightweight or overly improbable. Boyd sends Bond off to Africa, with a mission to speed the ending of a civil war in a fictitious oil-rich African state. This is a good move - Boyd knows Africa and many of his best novels are set there. The wartime setting and political nature feel more believable than a closer-to-home mad villain bent on world domination style plot.
After celebrating his 45th birthday alone at The Dorchester, Bond is sent to Zanzarim to bring a speedy end to the civil war in the country which has seen the delta region of the country split to form the Democratic Republic of Dahum. Before leaving for Africa, Bond visits Gabriel Adeka—the rebel leader's brother—who runs AfriKIN, a London-based charity who send aid to Dahumni children; Gabriel tells Bond that he is not in contact with his brother Solomon, as the pair have fallen out.
On his arrival in Zanzarim, Bond is aided by a local agent who introduces herself as Efua Blessing Ogilvy-Grant. The two travel from the capital city to the rebel enclave, but are attacked shortly before reaching their destination and taken captive by Kobus Breed, a mercenary assisting the rebels. The group are attacked on their return journey and Ogilvy-Grant goes missing in the confusion, while Bond escapes.
Bond proceeds to the enclave, where he is met by Breed, who accepts Bond's cover as a journalist. Bond meets Solomon Adeka and realises that the leader will shortly die of cancer: his mission to kill Adeka is needless. Bond sees supply flights of arms and equipment coming into the country, all funded by billionaire Hulbert Linck; the aeroplanes all show the AfriKIN name on the fuselage. When Adeka dies a few days later, Bond tries to leave the country on one of the supply flights, but is confronted by Breed and Blessing, who both shoot him and leave him to die.
Bond is saved by a journalist he befriended and returns to the UK, where he spends time in a military hospital. After discharging himself, he decides to go on a revenge mission against Breed and Ogilvy-Grant. Discovering AfriKIN has relocated to Washington DC, Bond travels to the US and tracks down both of them at the AfriKIN offices. While conducting surveillance against the company, Bond is briefly detained by Brigham Leiter—nephew of Felix—of the CIA, who explains Ogilvy-Grant also works for the CIA.
Bond meets Ogilvy-Grant, who assures him that she shot to wound him in order that Breed would not shoot them both. The following day Bond watches a mercy flight bringing in maimed and injured Zanzarimi children; he dines alone and returns to his hotel to find that Breed has killed Ogilvy-Grant.
Bond attacks the house where Breed is staying with the children, and incapacitates the mercenary, leaving him for dead. He establishes that the children are being used as drug mules to smuggle raw heroin into the country and locates Solomon Adeka, who had not been killed in Africa, but been turned into a heroin addict in order to control him. Adeka's older brother had been killed in London, ensuring Solomon became chief of the tribe whose lands held massive amounts of oil: as he was an addict, these rights were signed away in favour of Hulbert Linck. Linck was killed by the CIA during the raid on the house.
A good and interesting period companion piece about 007, but not an A#1 Bond adventure.
When Bond is on a mission in Africa, he finds that not all operatives have his best interest in mind. After tying up one mission he decides to take matters into his own hands by going solo. This is my first dip into the world of James Bond that doesn’t revolve around high-action television drama. I didn’t start at the beginning as any normal person would but got stuck in the middle with Solo and I loved it. I have read plenty of Boyd’s work, enough to know that I like his style and this book was no different in that respect. The quality of his storytelling is right at the top and his character development is spot on. Writing about a fictional character who is so widely known can be risky but in this case, totally worth it. Boyd brings out the best of Bond and his womanizing ways are more natural, less sexist, and the emotional content is so much better. You can connect with Bond’s character because Boyd has really brought him to life and humanized the legend. For this aspect alone, it is a must-read.
This isn't Bond. This Bond worries about his smoking and the damp in his flat. William Boyd, whose other books I like, has placed Bond in a dull real life. After the real Bond, the cold killer, casual shagger of beautiful women,and inhabitant of a world that never was but we like to inhabit this Bond depresses. I gave up soon to find escape elsewhere.
I love James Bond. I also love William Boyd's books - I have read them all. I did not love Solo where Bond is far too emotionally sensitive. Bring back Fleming's ice cold killer please and stop wasting our time
Oh what a disappointment! Ian Fleming was a great story-teller with one of the most enjoyable fictional spies ever imagined. Having read his books years ago I looked forward to this 'sequel' by William Boyd. But sadly Boyd is not Fleming. What we have is a poor pastiche of the style and, of course, the main character, but nothing more. Whereas Fleming had you gripped and turning the pages, this left me unengaged and frankly indifferent, both to the man and to what happens next. I appreciate that only Fleming will write like Fleming, but there are masters of plotting and narrative out there (Anthony Horowitz for one) who can write this kind of 'sequel' and have done it brilliantly for other authors. Sorry. I wanted to enjoy it, but I didn't.
I always enjoyed Ian Fleming's James Bond novels (with the exception of `The Spy Who Loved Me') and equally, I didn't care at all for the authors who, following his death desired to be Fleming-wannabees - until now. William Boyd's book is very entertaining and it's clear that he has leant very heavily on recollections of his early life in West Africa to make those episodes in the book very compelling.
However, the book commences with Bond celebrating his 45th birthday and given his previous and existing enormous consumption of alcohol and nicotine, plus his diet of rich food, and despite carrying out the odd desultory callisthenic or two, it begs the question: is Bond as fit as he should be?
Mr. Boyd obviously thinks so, because some six weeks after being shot, at close range, once in the hip and once in the chest, Bond is fit enough to tackle three low-lifes, intent on mugging him - and in addition, having bested them, hangs about long enough to inflict some further damage to them in the probably forlorn hope that this lesson in unarmed combat will have pointed out the error of their ways. All this, and Bond is able to carry out some top-level bonking with his usual expertise.
This may stretch the reader's credulity just a bit, but let's face it, this is James Bond and his readers have come to expect nothing less from him. It's a good, rollicking read and the second of Bond's romances provides a clever twist to the book's finale.
Promoting Solo in the Guardian newspaper (28/9/13) Boyd printed an 'interview' between himself and James Bond from 1969. Fun but it helped me put my finger on it- this is a 007 novel written as though Ian Fleming never existed. While it's obvious from the blurb that Boyd eschewed a classic Bond plot (playing cat & mouse vs supervillain), and clear that he hasn't attempted Fleming's voice, the wholesale dumping of the thriller style is a courageous mistake. The result is a curate's egg, lacking in action and pace but compelling in tone and atmosphere.
To start with the positive, he's got Bond pretty darn close. Beyond the welcome knitted tie, eggs, fags, etc, there's an appreciation for the dry, humane, pernickety but coldly professional hero. His voice especially shines through: be it grumbles at the service industry, or an impressively unfusty appreciation of young people's fashion and freedom. The mischief in Richmond didn't worry me from a character point of view: silly, reckless, ungallant, man without milk tray but very human.
Moreover the period setting is consummate, effortlessly weaving in the old world trappings that were a powerful counterpoint to 007's extravagant adventures: Dimple Haig, the old pound note, Jensen FF. By extension, the undoubted high light of the book is the fictional African failed state. Boyd's background obviously informs the wildlife, geography, politics of Zanzarim; the late colonial setting is perfect for Bond who operates best on a thin veneer of civilisation, the private club never more than a few steps from the urban guerrilla. Remoteness and exoticism are at the heart of the best Bond outings, and Zanzarim must be a contender for the most alien: vivid, horrific and haunting.
The problem is not so much the plot (I needn't repeat here) but the storytelling. This isn't a thriller by any means: too recursive and wandery, it's disjointed and lacks urgency. Not uneventful, but with little incident and almost no action until the halfway mark. Scenes occur so we can revisit them once something happens. I don't need shootouts and car chases, but to deprive a man of action of his purpose is dangerous. Without a proper mission or megalomaniac to hunt the pace flags badly. I don't mind continuation writers breaking rules (Amis, Gardner, Benson) but you better have a damn good reason.
Fleming's cardinal rule (borrowed from pulp fiction) was keep the plot flying and they won't see the plot holes. Here they appear cavernous, as chapters end with little coercing you to start the next. Gardner proved that 007 mysteries (semi-concealing the bad guy for plot reasons) need plenty of action, heavy on the quirky/bizarre/macabre. Without head to head showdowns over cards/cars/golf, 007 wilts amid a conspiracy. The girls and henchmen are well characterised but fail to loom large. Crucial as once out of Africa the leaden pace makes Bond's solo mission appear arbitrary, out of character and unconvincing.
In fairness the twists are good, and the prose better than I feel he's been given credit for. Erudite but unshowy, with an impressive knack for description, it's an easy read. I enjoyed it as a romance in the same old-fashioned sense that applied to Fleming's work (a story with scenes remote from ordinary life), but mourned it as a non-thriller. An interesting period companion piece about 007, but not a Bond adventure.